Startup general interest

Internet T’s & C’s – do we have a problem?

By December 14, 2009 8 Comments


Jason Calacanis’s discussion of Facebook’s recent change of T’s and C’s I was touches on a subject that has been bugging me for some time – whether the T’s and C’s we all accept all the time on the web are going to be enforceable and if not what sort of problems the ensuing legal void will cause.

Calacanis states the problem like this:

When faced with a TOS (Terms of Service) or license the world has been trained to hit the word “agree,” and click, click, click until they get to the actual website or software they were trying to get to in the first place.

As I see it, if no-one reads the T’s and C’s and everyone knows that then sooner of later some judge or politician is going to take the view that enforcing them is unfair, or that someone who suffers damages by virtue of inadvertently agreeing to share some data deserves recompense.

If/when that happens many internet companies will be mired in a sea of uncertainty that will make it them more difficult to invest in, operate, grow, IPO or sell.

Calacanis’s solution is for internet companies to be responsible – I’m obviously in favour of that, but there will always be some rotten apples who can’t or won’t self govern themselves and they will inevitably create problems for everyone else.  The alternatives seem to me to be either regulation or industry codes of condunct which are both detailed and policed.

I’m no lawyer, and I’d very be interested to hear if I’m missing something important here.  I suspect I’m not though, and that this is a new legal issue because people are conducting significant business online and sharing information online for the first time in history. 

Nor is it realistic to expect people to read the T’s and C’s they sign up to.  If it comes to that people will just use fewer services. 

As a case in point I downloaded the new Zemanta LiveWriter plugin before I wrote this post and clicked through the license agreement as Calacanis describes above.  If I wasn’t comfortable doing that (and maybe I shouldn’t be) I would have aborted the install.

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